Monday, April 9, 2018

Mary's momentous "Yes"

Photo by: The Annunciation, by Henry Tanner

Today is Lady Day, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Strictly speaking it occurs on 25th March, but because that was Palm Sunday this year, Lady Day was transferred to the first available weekday after the Easter Octave. There is so much in the account of the Annunciation that can be applied to our own pilgrimage of faith. Two main points always emerge for me: Mary's response - her "Yes" to the Word of God -, and her openness to the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, every Advent I look forward to the Office of Readings for December 20th, for that's the day we read St Bernard's magnificent paragraphs depicting the the whole world waiting with baited breath for Mary's response to the Angel. Here it is:

"You have heard that you shall conceive and bear a Son; you have heard that you shall conceive, not of man, but of the Holy Spirit. The angel is waiting for your answer: it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for the word of pity, even we who are overwhelmed in wretchedness by the sentence of damnation.

"And behold, to you the price of our salvation is offered. If you consent, straightway shall we be freed. In the Word of God were we all made, and lo! we die; by one little word of yours in answer shall we all be made alive.

"Adam asks this of you, O loving Virgin, poor Adam, exiled as he is from paradise with all his poor wretched children; Abraham begs this of you, and David; this all the holy fathers implore, even your fathers, who themselves are dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death; this the whole world is waiting for, kneeling at your feet.

"And rightly so, for on your lips is hanging the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of the captive, the speedy deliverance of all who otherwise are lost; in a word, the salvation of all Adam's children, of all your race.

"Answer, O Virgin, answer the angel speedily; rather, through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word, and receive the Word; offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God; give what is temporal, and embrace what is eternal.

"Why delay? Why tremble? Believe, speak, receive! Let your humility put on boldness, and your modesty be clothed with trust. Not now should your virginal simplicity forget prudence! In this one thing alone, O prudent Virgin, fear not presumption; for although modesty that is silent is pleasing, more needful now is the loving-kindness of your word.

"Open, O Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith; open your lips to speak; open your bosom to your Maker. Behold! The Desired of all nations is outside, knocking at your door. Oh! if by your delay he should pass by, and again in sorrow you should have to begin to seek for him whom your soul loves! Arise, then, run and open. Arise by faith, run by the devotion of your heart, open by your word. 'And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord : be it done to me according to your word.'"

Here are a few more of my favourite reflections on this day:

BLESSED IS SHE WHO BELIEVED - by Patti Gallagher Mansfield (from an article in the July-August 1997 issue of the ICCRS Newsletter. ICCRS, Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00120 Vatican City, Europe.)
Here is Mary, the woman of prayer, attentive and responsive to God, with hands open and empty before God, not clinging to any conditions. A simple fiat. Yes. Be it done to me according to your word. Indeed, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45). By faith she permitted the Father to fulfill His plan and welcomed the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. By faith she embraced the Word made flesh in her womb. We know that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (cf. Heb. 11:6) and that Mary found favor with Him by her faith.

So must we, at this juncture in our lives as individuals and as a movement, kneel before the Father in a radical poverty of spirit and learn to pray with hands open and empty. In the past 30 years we have received great graces, but I'm afraid that too often we've returned to God with our hands full instead of empty. I sense that there are new "annunciations" being given for a new move of the Spirit, but that many of us don't really want God to be God. We still want Him on our own terms... a God who will fit into a prescribed pattern of acting. We don't want the Living God who turned Mary's life upside down. Let's be careful! By her, faith, Mary permitted God to "create a new thing upon the earth' (Jer 31:22). As I've asked Mary to be my mother and teach me to pray with hands open and empty, this is what I am leaning to say to the Father, "With Mary, I want to be for You all YES, only YES, always YES."

ANNUNCIATION - by John Donne (1572-1631)
That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Loe, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he will wear
Taken from thence, flesh,
which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd;
yea thou art now
Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.

ANNUNCIATION - by Christina Rossetti (before 1866)
Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
Faithful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
'Blessed among women, highly favoured,' thus
Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us:
Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail!'
Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

ANNUNCIATION - by Christina Rossetti (c. 1877)
Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
All Loveliness new-born
Took on her bosom its repose,
And slept and woke there night and morn.
Lily herself, she bore the one
Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
Than she or others are:
The Sun of Righteousness her Son,
She was His morning star.
She gracious, He essential Grace,
He was the Fountain, she the rill:
Her goodness to fulfil
And gladness, with proportioned pace
He led her steps thro' good and ill.
Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
Of beauty and of life and death:
By hope and love and faith
Transfigured to His Likeness, 'Dove,
Spouse, Sister, Mother,' Jesus saith.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Peter runs TO the Lord

This little reflection on the Gospel reading set for Easter Friday is by Don Schwager of the “Servants of the Word” community. Go HERE for a calendar on which you can click to read Don’s short commentary/ meditation on any day’s Gospel reading. Don writes:

Why didn’t the apostles immediately recognize the Lord when he greeted them at the Sea of Tiberias? John gives us a clue. He states that Peter had decided to return to his home district of Galilee, very likely so he could resume his fishing career. Peter was discouraged and didn’t know what to do after the tragedy of Jesus’ death! He went back to his previous career out of despair and uncertainty. The other apostles followed him back to Galilee. 

When was the last time Peter was commanded to let down his net after a futile night of fishing? It was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee when the Lord dramatically approached Peter in his fishing boat after a futile night of fishing and commanded him to lower his nets (see Luke 5:4-11). After the miraculous catch, Jesus told Peter that he would be ‘catching people” for the kingdom of God. Now Jesus repeats the same miracle. John, the beloved disciple, is the first to recognize the Lord. Peter impulsively leaps from the boat and runs to the Lord. Do you run to the Lord when you meet setbacks, disappointments, or trials? The Lord is ever ready to renew us in faith and to give us fresh hope in his promises. 

Skeptics who disbelieve the resurrection say the disciples only saw a vision of Jesus. The Gospel accounts, however, give us a vivid picture of the reality of the resurrection. Jesus went out of his way to offer his disciples various proofs of his resurrection - that he is real and true flesh, not just a spirit or ghost. In his third appearance to the apostles, after Jesus performed the miraculous catch of fish, he prepared a breakfast and ate with them. John’s prompt recognition of the Master - It is the Lord! and Peter’s immediate response to run to the Lord - stands in sharp contrast to Peter’s previous denial of his Master during the night of Jesus’ arrest. The Lord Jesus reveals himself to each of  us as we open our hearts to hear his word. Do you recognize the Lord’s presence in your life and do you accept his word with faith and trust?

“Lord Jesus, you are the Resurrection and the Life. Increase my faith in the power of your resurrection and in the truth that you are truly alive! May I never doubt your life-giving word nor stray from your presence.”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Whose is the mind behind the New Testament reinterpretation of the Old Testament theology of redemption?

Following on from yesterday's Gospel reading of Jesus' encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, today's recounts the risen Lord's next appearance to his disciples: 

Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things(Luke 24:44-48)

One of the textbooks I thoroughly enjoyed in my student days, and to which I have returned many times for inspiration, is An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.) by Alan Richardson (1905-75), Dean of York, Professor of Christian Theology in the University of Nottingham and Canon of Durham Cathedral.

There are some truly memorable passages in this book, and it deserves to be better known today. One such passage occurs in the first chapter ("Faith and Hearing") in which Richardson explains his assumptions with regard to how the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Richardson asks the question, "Whose idea was it to reinterpret the Old Testament idea of redemption in this way?" He writes:

. . . Many . . . details . . . elaborate this basic conception of Jesus as himself the New Israel who accomplishes and brings to its conclusion the role which the Old Israel essayed but did not complete. Where the Old Israel had failed, the New Israel conquered. The Scriptures were fulfilled; the story of redemption was concluded. 

Since the rise of modern biblical scholarship the question has been asked, Who first thought of this way of setting forth the significance of the historical life of Jesus? 

Every conceivable kind of answer has been given. It could not have been the Evangelists who first thought of it, because St Paul knew it long before St Mark’s Gospel was written. It could hardly have been St Paul, if we may trust the evidence which he himself supplies, including, of course, his own protestations of loyalty to the Gospel which he had received. Could it, then, have been the community at large, the Church into which St Paul “was baptized?” Some scholars have assumed that the early Christian community collectively worked out the theology of Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Such a conclusion, however, is not convincing, because communities do not think out such brilliant reconstructions as this uniquely original reinterpretation of the OT plan of salvation. 

There must have been some profoundly original mind which started the whole development on its course. Are we to assume that some creative thinker, whose name and whose memory have perished, is the genius behind the NT theology? Such a conclusion would indeed be an argumentum ex silentio.   

There remains only one other possibility: the mind behind the NT reinterpretation of the OT theology of redemption was that of Jesus himself. Could any solution be more probable? It was the Lord himself who first suggested, as much by his deeds (signs) as by his words, the fundamental lines of the theology of the NT. 

One gains the impression from reading the Gospels that the disciples were slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them during his historical ministry (e.g. Mark 4:40f.; 6:51f; 8:16-21; 9:32, etc.; cf. Luke 24:25; John 14:9, etc.), and that it was not until after the crucifixion and resurrection that the clues which he had left with them began to shape in their minds a coherent pattern. After the resurrection of Jesus they themselves were conscious that they were being guided by the Spirit of the living Lord into all the truth concerning him (John 16:12-15); the things which the historical Jesus had said to them were now brought vividly to their remembrance through the activity of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and now they understood their inner meaning (John 14:26). 

This is the hypothesis upon which the argument of this volume is based, and it is our contention that it makes better sense of the NT evidence than does any other; its validity will be attested by its success or failure as a foundation for a coherent and soundly historical account of the theology of the apostolic Church.

Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.), pages 22 to 23.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Encountering Jesus - OUR Emmaus journey:

This is an edited transcript of a sermon I preached 
at All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane (Australia), 
on Easter Day, 2003, at Evensong and Benediction.

It was near the end of Easter Day, the first Easter Day. According to Luke Chapter 24, two disciples of Jesus were on their way to Emmaus - about 11 km northwest of Jerusalem.

But their walk had become a trudge.

The bottom had fallen out of their world. Jesus of Nazareth, in whom they had placed their hope for a new and better world, had been killed by the authorities. He had such promise. "He could have called ten thousand angels . . ." as the old gospel song says. How come he didn't use his supernatural power to bring in God's Kingdom then and there?

That was a question in the minds of many people.

It seems that these two had not been part of the inner circle of disciples. Most likely they were among the hundreds who heard Jesus preach and believed in him, who knew him from a distance, from among the crowd.

There they were. Downhearted, despondent and without hope. But they became aware of someone else walking with them. Why didn't they know it was Jesus?

Commentators give all sorts of reasons. I think it was simply that they didn't expect it to be him, and they might never have seen him up close, anyway.

But . . . isn't that a picture of what happens to us? Hopes and dreams crumble, communities disintegrate, businesses go under, people let us down, super funds lose their value, we get a serious illness, or we're simply engulfed by an unexplained torpor. Things like these - and many others besides - trigger off the kind of depression and fear that can destroy us from the inside out.

How many times, when we feel like that, and our walk has become a trudge, do we fail to recognise the presence of Jesus with us?

Because . . . he DOES walk with you and me. Even when we don't recognise him he walks with us because he loves us. We call that "grace". He walks with you; he walks with me. Just as on that Road to Emmaus, he draws near in a special way when our journey becomes a trudge. He is there . . . in our darkest moments.

Though they didn't recognise him, Jesus managed to take their minds off themselves and how they felt. In fact, their hearts began to change even before they realised who he was. We know that, because later on when they looked back on the experience they said: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32)

There was something about his presence as he taught them from the Old Testament. ". . . beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself " (v. 27).

When they reached Emmaus, Jesus "made as if he was going further." Do you understand what he did . . . instead of imposing himself on them he gave them the prerogative of saying "yes" or "no" to what had begun happening in their lives. He does that to us!

And, do you know, we can close ourselves off to what might become a great adventure of faith, or we can - as people say - "go with the flow."

That's what they did. Even before they understood exactly what was happening to them, "they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent" (v.29). They invited him in.

You heard how the story ends. "Jesus went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight" (v. 30-32). They rushed back into Jerusalem to find the Eleven, and "they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (v.35).

Do you see what this passage tells us about the Risen Jesus - how he makes himself known to his people?

First, he comes alongside us long before we recognise his presence, especially when we are empty and defeated. I've already spoken about that.

Second, he opens up the Scriptures to us. When we read the Scriptures or hear them expounded, we are not just gaining intellectual knowledge. The Risen Jesus speaks through his Word. He speaks to our hearts, our spirits. It is a supernatural communion. His Word expands our vision, heals our souls, and gives us strength. Did you know that in our day there is an unprecedented turning to the Scriptures among Christians of all backgrounds because, to use the language of Vatican II, we actually "encounter" the risen Jesus in his Word.

Referring to a teaching of the fourth century St Ambrose, Vatican II said that "prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for 'we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine sayings'" (Dei verbum 25).

When was the last time you blew the dust off your Bible, turned off the television, and just began reading, maybe in the Psalms, or one of the Gospels, or a letter of St Paul, all the while asking the Lord to speak to you? Have you thought about following a system (like Bible Alive) or using the weekday Mass readings for your regular time in God's Word?

If you start doing that you will grow; you will be changed; your faith will become stronger; your heart will burn within you as you hear his voice.

Third, he is still known to us in the Breaking of the Bread. High up over the main altar of St John's Horsham in the Diocese of Ballarat - the second parish I served as rector - is a beautiful stained glass window of Jesus celebrating the Eucharist at Emmaus. Every time I looked up at the altar of St John's I would be reminded of this Mass at which Jesus was - literally in his risen body - the actual celebrant. I would say to my people there that whenever we come to Mass we are not only joined to the apostles in the upper room on the first Maundy Thursday when Jesus gave us the Eucharist; we are also joined to the Emmaus disciples at the end of Easter Sunday who had the amazing honour of being the congregation at the first Mass of the Resurrection!

Then the Lord "vanished out of their sight." What's going on here? Along with many scholars of this text I believe that because Jesus had chosen the "Breaking of the Bread" to be the place where his risen tangible presence would be encountered by his people, once the disciples recognised him there, he was able to withdraw the extraordinary and special grace of his "actual" resurrection body.

There you have it. That's why I love Holy Communion. It's not "just" a symbol. Jesus comes in all of his love and risen power in the Breaking of the Bread - the Mass - to bless us, to heal us, and to fill us with his resurrection life.

I've got one more thing to say.

Many Scripture scholars believe that the encounter of Jesus with these disciples is included by St Luke specifically to teach us about the Eucharist. That is, while this passage has its deeply personal application (upon which I dwelt earlier) it is, in fact, a pattern of the liturgy itself.

The references to the Word and the Breaking of the Bread have to do with the life of the whole believing community, which is why Luke doesn't omit to tell us that the disciples rush back to the apostles in Jerusalem. And to this day it is supremely as part of the apostolic community gathered for the proclamation of the Word and the Breaking of the Bread that we actually meet Jesus.

Because of this passage of St Luke I have a special job to do tonight. If you are from a catholic background I have to encourage you to become as much a "Bible Christian" as any evangelical you might know, recognising that the risen Jesus comes to us in his Word. No more sneering at people who love the Scriptures, underline verses, or learn texts off by heart!

And if you are from an evangelical background I have to encourage you to become as catholic as the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, recognizing the real presence of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. No more accusations of idolatry against those who would fall down in reverence before the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!

In what is rapidly becoming a post-Christian age, the Lord is calling us to be "evangelical catholics", and "catholic evangelicals."

Again, it all comes together in Vatican II's Dei verbum, where we find this very important statement: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body"
(Dei verbum 22).

Brothers and sisters, may you know and love the risen Jesus more and more; may your hearts burn within you as you hear him speaking to you in his holy Word; and may you never fail to recognize the love, the healing power, and the holiness of his presence in the Breaking of the Bread.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Marcus Loane on the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene

Sir Marcus Loane, (1911-2009) was the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney from 1966 to 1982 and Primate of Australia from 1978 to 1982. He spent nearly all his ministry in the Diocese of Sydney except for two years during World War II when he was an army chaplain in New Guinea. I have said before how a "literary hack" like me is reduced to wonder just by his turn of phrase. He was an artist who painted with the English language, a real wordsmith, precise and poetic at the same time. I loved hearing him preach. Indeed, I remember - as if it were yesterday - the sermon he gave at my Confirmation when he was still an assistant bishop. An old fashioned evangelical, his clear dislike of Anglo-Catholicism failed to diminish his real fellowship with and respect for those individual Anglo-Catholics he felt loved the Lord and preached the Gospel. He was, for example, over many years, a close friend of Archbishop Philip Strong. When preparing for this morning's Mass, the Gospel for which was the appearing of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, I thought of Sir Marcus on account of the following from his book Jesus Himself: The Story of the Resurrection:

Jesus said to her, “Mary”
John 20:16 

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ — and that he had said these things to her." (John 20:11-18) 

English literature does not often excel the chaste beauty of this passage in language and feeling. Sentence follows sentence with scarcely a connecting particle until it reaches the end. 

Peter and John had left the tomb and the other women had already gone their way. But Mary had followed the two men back to the garden where she lingered near the tomb. The shock of that death on the cross had plunged her into a grief that was close to despair. Her tears were the only outlet for a sorrow that lay too deep for words. ‘But ... as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb’ (John 20:11). Her eyes may have been dim with tears, but she soon saw that she was not alone. It was not the grave-clothes nor the head-cloth on that cold ledge which held her gaze: it was the two angels in white, one at the head and one at the foot of that ledge where the body had lain. They had appeared to the other women after Mary had run on her errand to Peter and John; neither Peter nor John had seen them, but Mary at once became aware of their presence. 

Mary looked at them in silent contemplation: it was they who broke the silence: ‘They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?’” (20:13). A gentle query. They did not tell her what they had told the other women, but they spoke with gentle understanding. ‘Woman’, they said: that was neither cold nor aloof, but a term of courtesy and dignity. But she felt no wonder at the sight of angel faces nor the sound of angel voices: she was far too obsessed with grief because she did not know what had become of his body. She could only respond with a troubled repetition of her words to Peter and John (cf. 20:2). ‘She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (20:13). 

Those words had gone round and round in her mind until she could think of nothing else. There were only two slight variations, but they were not without significance. Now she spoke of my Lord rather than of the Lord, and she used the pronoun I rather than we: she was blind with sorrow; her loss was so personal that all thought of others was forgotten. 

That brief exchange came to an end, as a conversation which had nothing further to yield: ‘Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing’ (20:14). She had stooped down; then she straightened herself; now she turned around to the garden. What made her turn at that precise moment? The Greek text is emphatic. It was not the aimless movement of one whom the angels could not impress. Had she heard a muffled footfall? Had she even seen a fleeting shadow? Chrysostom imagined that some gesture on the part of the two angels caused her to turn around. It may have been so: nothing would have been more real or life-like. 

And turn she did: she turned right round; it brought her face to face with Jesus. Her eyes would look into his eyes: she saw him in his risen glory: but ‘she did not know that it was Jesus’ (20:14). One who had seen angels without alarm saw him as a stranger without concern; recognition failed her because she was in search of one who was alive, as if he were still dead. 

Mary had heard the first words to fall from the lips of the risen Saviour: ‘Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” (20:15). He did not wait to see if she would unfold her grief to him: he simply spoke to her as the angels had done. But he spoke in a way that went far beyond a mere expression of sympathy. His first gentle query was identical with that of the angels, but the next words went much further. 

But how could a stranger have known the real nature of her secret longing? She offered no answer to his question because a new thought had taken hold of her mind. ‘Sir’, she said, ‘if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him’ (20:15). Perhaps he was the keeper of the garden; perhaps he knew what had happened. Perhaps he had himself moved the body elsewhere once the Sabbath was past. The pronoun she employed simply assumed that he knew what she meant. Hers was only the strength of a woman, but if she could find him, she would ‘take him away’ (20:15). 

The Lord Jesus had time to mark her tears and read her mind before he spoke again. ‘Jesus said to her, “Mary”’ (20:16); only one word, but that word would tell her all she needed to know. He spoke in the familiar dialect of Nazareth and Galilee to awaken her memory; and he called her Mariam, which was the equivalent of the Greek Maria (see 19:25). But there was more, for the very accent of his voice had survived the pains of mortality and death: that name, spoken with that accent, was a word of exceeding tenderness. He had addressed her before as Woman, a term of respect such as any man might use. But that was like the voice of a stranger and it awoke no special response. Mariam was like the voice of a shepherd who knows his sheep and calls each one by name. Not a glimmer of hope had shone in her soul only a moment or two before. But the tender longing and the vivid accent in that word would tell her as nothing else could do who it was that spoke: for who else could call her by her name in her own native patois as he did now? 

Mary had begun to turn away when his voice caught her and made her turn again: 

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher) (20:16). 

The word Woman had failed to evoke anything more than the word Sir in reply (20:15). But her own name, Mary, spoke to her heart and called forth her ardent cry, Rabboni. Like him she spoke in the familiar dialect of Magdala and Galilee as in the days of old: and the Evangelist was careful to give the Greek equivalent for her form of address. The strict meaning of that vernacular term Rabboni was the word Teacher or Master, but that homely form of address was more personal than the ordinary term Rabbi. It was the only time this word was used as a form of address to him after that first resurrection morning, no doubt because it lacked the full sense of lordship which was afterwards understood. But it was the cry of one who had been rescued from the edge of despair, and she poured out all the pent-up love in her heart in that cry of rapture.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Greetings


You might be on top of the world right now, with everything in your life working out just as you would wish. Or you might be struggling with tragedies and difficult circumstances that severely try your confidence in the goodness of God. Truth be told, most of us know both those polarities. Ask anybody who tries to follow Jesus. They'll tell you that the Christian way is not an insurance policy against Gethsemanies and Calvaries. But it IS the means of experiencing the dynamic of the Lord's resurrection in our lives here and now (and not just when we die!). So, whoever you are and wherever you are, I beckon your gaze to the crucified and risen Saviour who loves you so much. 

The late Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, Church of England Bishop in Europe from 2001 to 2013, was a pastor, a scholar, a holy priest and a faithful Anglo-Catholic. He was also deeply aware of the power of the Lord's resurrection. So I share with you here a stunning piece he wrote for publication in the Sunday Times, Easter Day, 8th April, 2007:

Jesus dies. His lifeless body is taken down from the cross. Painters and sculptors have strained their every nerve to portray the sorrow of Mary holding her lifeless son in her arms, as mothers today in Baghdad hold with the same anguish the bodies of their children. On Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, God is dead, entering into the nothingness of human dying. The source of all being, the One who framed the vastness and the microscopic patterning of the Universe, the delicacy of petals and the scent of thyme, the musician’s melodies and the lover’s heart, is one with us in our mortality. In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside.

How can these things be said, and sung, and celebrated, as they will be by countless millions this Easter? Only because the blotting out of life by death is not the horizon. The definitive line is not drawn there. From that nothingness and darkness and the seeming triumph of the darkest powers of evil, new life was born, a new creation came to be. On Easter morning a tomb was found empty, a stone rolled away, and a new order broke into the world. The Easter stories of the Gospels are not about “the resurrection of relics”, but about an amazing new life and transfiguration. It is not the resurrection of a principle but of a person, who calls us by name. In St John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene hears the calling of her name by the risen Christ, though blinded by her tears she thinks Him to be the gardener. Clutching his feet she tries to pin him down, to shut him up in the old order, but he tells her not to touch, not to seek to hold down his risen life. She is to go and tell the Good News of resurrection, that all may be drawn into the ascending energy of the love of God.

Jesus breathes on His disciples His life-giving Spirit, the divine life of the new creation. “Go and live that life, live out that love”, for “Christ is risen and the demons are fallen”. The principalities and powers are dethroned. They have no ultimate control of our lives. From the nothingness of death and the absence of God and meaning, Christ rises in triumph and love’s redeeming work is done.

A great Holy Saturday Poem

This poem, "Limbo", by Sister Mary Ada, from THE MARY BOOK, a collection edited by F.J. Sheed, is always good to read on Holy Saturday. The entire book is available HERE

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed –
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue –
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”

This strange day

An early Christian writer once described Holy Saturday as being a day of great quietness and stillness as earth awaits the Resurrection. It is a day out of time — no sacraments to affirm the bonds between this world and the next, no warmth or colour to assuage the interior desolation, no activity to distract us or give us a false sense of security. We are simply waiting, all emotion spent, with our Holy Saturday faith, entering into a dimension of reality we cannot truly comprehend, a kind of little death that prepares us for the death we shall all one day undergo. In this state we can do nothing; God must do everything.

Holy Saturday prepares us for the newness of life that comes with the Resurrection, that we will experience at the great Easter Vigil Mass tonight and in our celebrations tomorrow.  Today’s silence and stillness, the apparent inaction of this day out of time is part of our preparation to receive the Risen Christ into our hearts; and the only way we can do that is by allowing God to do all the doing. (Adapted from iBenedictines.)

* * * * * * * * * *

O God for whom the whole creation lives 
and in whose hands are the depths of earth 
and the heights of the mountains; 
the crucified body of your beloved Son 
was laid in a new tomb 
hewn from the rock in a garden 
and rested on this holy Sabbath day. 
As your Church awaits with Christ 
the dawning of the third day
 and the beginning of your new creation, 
grant that all who are buried with him 
in the waters of baptism may rise with him to new life 
and find their perfect rest in that glorious kingdom 
that he has established by his Paschal Mystery. 
We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, 
our Passover and Peace, 
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God forever and ever.
(Adapted from Benedictine Daily Prayer.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday in Holy Week - more on the Betrayal

FIRST READING (Isaiah 50:4-9a)
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by aliens. And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom.

GOSPEL (Matthew 26:14-25)
O one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?”

And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.

And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover.

When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

“I looked for sympathy, but there was none; for comforters, and I found none.” (Psalms 69:21)

Many great spiritual writers have written about “the dark night of the soul.” This is a time when we experience a sense of complete abandonment and aloneness. We are slowly being surrounded by the darkness with no one there to help us or even walk with us. One religious sister told me of her experience with the dark night. She was in chapel praying and was overcome with a sense of God’s complete absence. There was nothing there to pray to. She was so scared she had to run from the chapel!

Of all the days in Jesus’ life, today is one of the darkest. The readings show us a Jesus Who is abandoned and betrayed. He is facing His most difficult moment, His death, and the people He most relied on are deserting Him. Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah will face His pain and tortures alone. The responsorial psalm echoes his soft cry for help: “Lord in Your great love, answer Me!”

We have all faced dark nights of the soul when everything seems lost and we are forsaken. In this darkness, we stand with Isaiah, and Sso many Saints down through the ages. Mostly, though, we stand with Jesus. And we trust the voice of God, as it did in the first moments of creation, to create a dawn in the darkness.
(Reflections On The Passion by Charles Hugo Doyle)

In 1943, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a series of radio plays “Man Born to be King” on the life of Jesus. She had also written commentaries on the Gospels, not as a textual scholar so much as a playwright interested in human nature. She wanted to show how the story hung together with truly believable human characters. 

For Dorothy Sayers, Judas is an idealistic young man, genuinely seeking the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth. He wants Jesus to establish a political kingdom and drive out the Romans (and, of course, give him an administrative role!). As the plays go on, Judas becomes increasingly disillusioned with Jesus' humility, and finally decides to force his hand by putting him into a situation where he will have to either overthrow the Romans or face humiliation and death. Of course, Jesus, does not do what Judas thinks he should do, but embraces the way of suffering and death in order to redeem all us from our sins.

Judas as understood by Dorothy Sayers is very believable, very human, and all too common. He's like us. Aren't we prone to betray Jesus in order to get our own way or forward our own advancement? Let us cry out with the publican, “God have mercy on me, a sinner,” (Luke 18:13).

O Gracious Father,
we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church;
that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purify it;
where it is in error, direct it;
where in any thing it is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, establish it;
where it is in want, provide for it;
where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of him who died and rose again,
and ever liveth to make intercession for us,
Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.
Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday in Holy Week: Betrayal

The Mass readings for Tuesday in Holy Week focus on the betrayal of the Lord. I share with you this powerful article, by a Poor Clare Colettine Sister, from the website of the Boston Catholic Journal.

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 
"What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" 
They paid him thirty pieces of silver, 
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over ..."
St. Matthew 26.14-25

We betray others — and sell ourselves — so often for such a paltry return, for some trifling personal gain or some fleeting temporal recompense.

More often than not we betray others for profoundly selfish reasons, as a means of extricating ourselves from blame, as an act of subtle or less than subtle revenge, for emolument ... in one way or another we are all guilty of betraying the love and confidence of others, of something which has been entrusted to us.

The very word itself is fraught with withering darkness. Betrayal means calculated disloyalty to another, the breaking of innocence in the breaking of trust; it is to lead, with purpose, another astray or into error. It has a rich and varied parlance: to sell down the river, to mislead, to stab in the back, to misguide, and all of us have known of its bitter, bitter fruit.

Until we ourselves are the victims, we do not fully comprehend the compromising of trust as a tremendously and intrinsically destructive breach between individuals, the effects of which can be far reaching beyond our anticipation, and long lasting, perhaps even irreparable.

Judas betrayed Christ. His name has become synonymous with betrayal, infamy. Bt none of us may stand in judgment of Judas. His weakness is within us all. However reluctant we are to concede the weakness, it intrinsic to our fallen human nature from which none of us can prescind. It is just one deleterious aspect of a deep moral fissure resulting from the Original Sin we inherited from Adam and Eve.

The heart of Christ was one of perfect love and forgiveness. Judas knew this. He saw it day in and day out as he walked beside Jesus. He saw it in everything Christ did. Judas' betrayal is, in the face of this, a great mystery, something the Father allowed for His purpose – but Judas's greatest sin was not his betrayal of Christ, but his despairing of God's forgiveness.

Both Peter and Judas betrayed Christ. The paramount difference, as most know, is that Judas despaired ... while Peter repented.

We have ALL betrayed Christ ... 

What is very important to understand is that while Judas is the paradigm of betrayal, each of us has been, at one time or another, an inflection of it. Yes, Judas betrayed Christ. But so did I. So did you. Our betrayal has simply been less publicized, but so often no less notorious. 

For this reason, the consequences of betrayal and the endemic nature of betrayal through sin, should be kept in our minds and hearts. It is a necessary remembrance, for it will assist us in resisting sin — which is always a betrayal. resist the terrible sin of breaking the trust of another human being, and at the same time, what one is really doing is breaking a child's trust, for we are all, each of us, despite the masks and pretences that we wear, we are each children, vulnerable and fragile.

Trust, to be trusted, to be found trustworthy, is not simply conducive to love, but enhances love, enabling it to grow beyond all the uncertainties that would would otherwise impede it, constrain it ... it is the nurturing of a beautiful bond between persons.

This point is well illustrated in the story of the father who placed his young son on a table and urged him to jump into his arms. While apprehensive of the height, the trusting child nevertheless flung himself toward his father — who let the child fall painfully to the floor. "Let that be a lesson, son. Trust no one." It is very likely that the child never did. We must never be that parent, that spouse, that friend. For everyone who leaps in trust to our arms ... is a child.

Broken trust can be healed through the renewal of trust. It is possible. All things are possible with God. But if the breach has been deep, the journey to renewal may be long and arduous – and that is all the more reason why we should reflect well upon our words before we speak and give thought to any act in anyway that may damage that innocence implicit in trust. 

If truly you can find no occasion within yourself in your dealing with men, know that you do with God. How often we betray God. All of us. Every time we sin. How often! ... and how are we requited? We encounter His great love and mercy ... His forgiveness.

Having been dealt with mercifully, can we do less to those who have betrayed us? Whatever their purpose, our purpose is Christ — in Whose love, by Whose love, we are bound to requite them as Christ requited Peter ... and you ... and me ...

* * * * * * * *

And this by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861):

The Saviour looked on Peter. Ay, no word,
No gesture of reproach! The heavens serene,
Though heavy with armed justice, did not lean
Their thunders that way: the forsaken Lord
Looked only on the traitor. None record
What that look was, none guess: for those who have seen
Wronged lovers loving through a death-pang ken,
Or pale-cheeked martyrs smiling to a sword,
Have missed Jehovah at the judgment—
“I never knew this man”—did quail and fall, call.
And Peter, from the height of blasphemy
As knowing straight THAT GOD—turned free
And went out speechless from the face of all,
And filled the silence, weeping bitterly.

I think that look of Christ might seem to say—
“Thou Peter! art thou then a common stone
Which I at last must break my heart upon
For all God’s charge to his high angels may
Guard my foot better? Did I yesterday
Wash thy feet, my beloved, that they should run
Quick to deny me ‘neath the morning sun?
And do thy kisses, like the rest, betray?
The cock crows coldly. —GO, and manifest
A late contrition, but no bootless fear!
For when thy final need is dreariest,
Thou shalt not be denied, as I am here;
My voice to God and angels shall attest,
Because I KNOW this man, let him be clear.”

More photos of last week's Induction at All Saints' Benhilton

Here, as promised, 
some more photos from my Collation and Induction 
on St Joseph's day (19th March), last week. 
Thanks to John Gale for these.
(Click the photos to enlarge them)

Friends from other places,
including St Luke's, Kingston upon Thames, 
braved the ice and snow to attend.

All Saints' is within the Diocese of Southwark.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev'd Christopher Chessun, 
is also the Patron of the parish.

The Archdeacon of Croydon, the Ven. Christopher Skilton,
is pictured here with the Bishop of Southwark,
and also the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev'd Jonathan Baker.
All Saints' is part of the "Fulham Jurisdiction" of parishes and clergy.

Bishop Jonathan Baker had preached the sermon. 
He is pictured here as the Celebrant of the Mass.

At the end of Holy Communion
I reserved the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle
for the prayers of the people and Communion of the sick.

L to R: Lewis Owens, Subdeacon,
The Lord Bishop of Southwark,
The new VIcar,
The Bishop of Fulham,
the Deacon of the Mass, Fr Philip Kennedy.

Chatting with the Bishop of Southwark.

The Bishop of Southwark chatting with Lewis.

Cutting the cake while the Churchwardens and others 
look on at the reception.

Time for a few words of thanks.